Ghosts I have known and sometimes had the hots for

I made one of Julia Jackson’s pictures (Julia Jackson was Virginia Woolf's mother) into my computer background, and even started talking to her. Peggy didn’t exactly insist that I get rid of, “that awful picture of that depressed looking dead woman,” but I nonetheless replaced it with one of Peggy smiling broadly. When I turned my computer off for the night, Julia Jackson reappeared just before the screen went blank. I was considerably taken aback, but didn’t really believe—despite my desire to do so—that Julia Jackson was inhabiting my monitor.

I remembered a walk I took in the desert ten years ago during which I heard the ghost of Katherine Mansfield talking to me. I challenged the voice to present me with a gift to prove that I wasn’t hallucinating, and I immediately found a large, jeweled, feathered, brightly painted stick in the sagebrush. If the object had been a gaily wrapped first edition of one of her books with the inscription, “Best wishes to Snow from your dead friend Katherine,” I would have been more impressed, but I couldn’t connect the stick with anything I knew about her, and since I was at the bottom of a mile wide volcanic crater during an era when small groups of New Age men were running about the desert trying to get in touch with their primitive selves, I suspected coincidence.

Several observations keep me from believing in ghosts despite my very great desire to do so. For starters, they are seldom said to do anything worthwhile unless moaning, rattling chains, knocking over lamps, and otherwise scaring the hell out of the living, can be considered worthwhile. Secondly, on those rare occasions when they decide to actually say something, they don’t say it to the person it is intended for, but to a stranger who charges money to repeat it.

When I was a teenager, I used to visit country cemeteries hoping to see a ghost. One night I saw a red light slowly arise from my Granny’s grave and move in my direction. I ran like a dog with its tail on fire. I went back the next day, but didn’t see anything to account for the light. I even returned several times after dark, but never saw it again.

Granny died when I was eleven, and I was afterwards afraid of the room in which she spent her last years. It was separated from the rest of our large old house by a long hallway, and I wouldn’t venture into the back portion of that hallway in the daytime much less after dark. Yet, I had a very great curiosity about whether ghosts were real. One night, my mother sent me to the store on my bike. I had two routes by which I could return. One was by a path that ran alongside the house, and the other was around the block.

I chose the first because it would take me directly beneath the window behind which my Granny sat rocking for her last few years. When I passed under her window, I looked up, half hoping and half dreading to see her looking back at me. At that very instant, my bike stopped. It didn’t veer, it didn’t fall over, it didn’t slide, it didn’t tumble; it just stopped. I somersaulted over the handlebars and got up running. Fortunately, I was carrying the bread in a backpack, because I don’t know how I could have found the courage to go back for it.

The next day, my bike was still standing there, a sight that spooked me considerably until I realized that a horseshoe stake had become wedged between the chain and the back wheel.

Peggy’s grandmother was a great believer in ghosts. She told of hearing her bedroom door open one night, and footsteps crossing the room. She anxiously poked her head out from under the covers and saw a sallow figure in antique clothes standing at the foot of her bed staring at her. She drew her head back in, and spent the rest of the night saying, “Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus…”

And, of course, there was my dear demented, departed father who became convinced that he was being haunted by my mother’s ghost. He was notoriously forgetful about where he put things, and she had been able to point him in the right direction. When she died and could no longer do this, he became convinced that she had returned from the grave, and was hiding important papers, stealing money, and even rearranging the furniture.

He went from being annoyed to becoming absolutely livid, and the situation climaxed one night when he felt her pull back the covers and sit on the bed as if to join him. He said, “Kathryn, you’re dead, and I expect you to start acting the way someone in your situation is supposed to act.” She left the room, never to return. Since his death—in this house—Peggy and I often have a good laugh when we can’t find something. “Tom must have taken it,” we say.

If I really were to see my father’s ghost, I would only be worried if he should be as crazy dead as he was alive. Oh, I know, I just admitted to talking to not just one but two women who died long ago, but surely there’s nothing out of the ordinary about that, now is there?